Michigan basin

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The Michigan basin covers an area of approximately 198,387 square kilometers and is located in the northern United States, directly above the Appalachian and Illinois basins. As can be seen in Figure 1, it stretches into the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, as well as part of the Ontario region of Canada. Also included in the region are the Great Lakes of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and a very small portion of Lake Erie. It is composed of a variety of different petroleum source rocks and petroleum plays. Most production from conventional reservoirs has come from the Devonian Traverse limestone, Dundee limestone, Detroit River Group, and Reed City dolomite. Unconventional plays primarily consist of the Antrim shales, composed of late Devonian age rock. [1][2]

Fig 1. The Michigan basin, relative to the Appalachian and Illinois basins. [3]
Fig. 2 Structural cross-section of the Michigan basin from the Middle Ordovician to Jurassic and earlier. [1]


The Michigan basin was first recognized as a structural basin by Douglass Houghton, the first official state geologist of Michigan. His work in studying the basin helped lead to further exploration and extraction of its natural resources. Coal mining in the basin first began in 1835, mining for gypsum began in 1841, and wells were drilled in search of brine beginning in 1881. Oil production first began near Port Huron in 1886 and the method of hydraulic fracturing was first used in the basin in 1952. While searching for and extracting all of these natural resources, researchers were able to learn a great deal about the complexity of the basin’s geological structure. Oil production reached its peak in 1979 when 35 million barrels were produced and has since declined to a low of 5 million barrels in 2019. Natural gas production peaked in 1997, producing 311 billion cubic feet but has since declined to less than 90 billion cubic feet in 2018. [1][2][4]

Geologic Structure

The Michigan basin is structured as an elliptical, intracratonic basin. Sedimentary rock layers in the lower peninsula all dip toward the center, helping to form what defines this region as a basin. Figure 2 provides a visual for understanding this structure.The oldest rocks in the basin are of Pre-Cambrian age and are exposed at its northern edges. Rock from the Jurassic period and earlier lies closer to the center of the basin. Some of the other features include a series of synclines and anticlines that help to hold the water of the Great Lakes. Glacial erosion also helped in the process of creating the Great Lakes. As early as 2.4 million years ago, six major ice sheets advanced across the basin. These led to added complexity in the basin’s geological structure, with areas of erosion and deposition resulting from the glacial events.[5][6]

Geologic Risk/Uncertainty

Present in several different parts of the Michigan basin are thick salt beds. This includes the largest collective thickness of salt beds of all the northeastern states, with a peak combined thickness of about 1800 feet of salt near the center of the basin. Such thick deposits of salt give way to potential salt dome formations, which could create challenges for petroleum exploration if not discovered and researched beforehand. Some of these potential challenges are related to changes in or unexpected levels of fluid or formation pressure caused by the presence of the salt domes, which can lead to collapsed casing, well instability, and stuck pipe, among other issues. [7][8]

Petroleum Elements

Source Rocks

There are six primary groups of source rocks within the Michigan basin. Those six groups, in order of stratigraphic occurrence, consist of the Devonian Antrim shale, Devonian and Mississippian Ellsworth shale, Detroit River group of primarily carbonate rock or chert, Silurian Niagara Group of primarily evaporate and carbonic rock or chert as well as Silurian carbonic rock or chert, the Ordovician Collingwood shale, the Ordovician Foster Formation of primarily carbonic rock or chert, and the Precambrian Nonesuch Formation. The ages of these rocks range from 360 million years to over 570 million years. [3]

Conventional Plays

Conventional reservoirs typically contain rock with high permeability and high porosity. Much of the Michigan basin’s production from conventional reservoirs has come from sandstone formations with a variety of traps, many being anticlinal traps. The seals for these anticlinal traps primarily consist of varying shales, anhydrites, tight sandstones, and dense carbonate rocks. Hydrocarbons within these anticlinal traps are believed to have migrated in a variety of ways, with many being vertical migrations. Oils from the Middle Devonian Dundee and Detroit River reservoirs are thought to have migrated vertically from Devonian source rocks downdip in the basin. Differential migration of hydrocarbons is also believed to be present in the basin. Some traps are formed through facies change as well, such as the Berea Sandstone—which is sealed by an area that used to be a channel containing fine-grained sediment deposits. Other conventional plays include carbonate plays, such as the Traverse Limestone, Dundee Limestone, Detroit River Group, and Trenton-Black River Play, as well as the Niagaran Reef Play. The Niagaran Reef Play consists of traps formed by pinnacle reefs of Niagaran age that are primarily sealed by evaporites. [9]

Unconventional Plays

Unconventional plays consist of low permeability rock that typically has to go through some form of hydraulic fracturing before hydrocarbons can be extracted from it. The majority of unconventional wells drilled in Michigan have been in the Devonian Antrim shale, as it contains the majority of the basin’s natural gas reserves. As of May 2019, the Antrim shale was responsible for more than 80% of Michigan’s natural gas production. Other unconventional plays that have seen increased interest are the Utica-Collingwood in Northern Michigan, the A1 Carbonate in Mid and West Michigan, and the Black River (Van Wert zone) in Southern Michigan. [2][4][10]

Petroleum Potential

Natural Gas

Michigan currently holds about 0.3% share in the proved natural gas reserves of the United States. As of May 2019, proved reserves were estimated to be at 1.5 trillion cubic feet. Natural gas production in Michigan peaked in 1997 at 311 billion cubic feet per year however has since dropped to less than 90 billion cubic feet in 2018.[4][10]

Crude Oil

Michigan currently holds less than 0.1% share of the total crude oil reserve base in the United States. As of May 2019, proved reserves were estimated to be at 59 million barrels. Oil Production in Michigan holds less than 0.2% share of total U.S. oil production. Michigan peaked in 1979 at 35 million barrels of oil produced per year, however that production has since declined to 5 million barrels produced in 2019.[4][10]

Additional Readings

  1. Thermal contraction and flexure of intracratonal basins: a three-dimensional study of the Michigan basin [11]
  2. Natural Gas From Shale: Questions and Answers [12]
  3. History of Michigan Oil & Gas [13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cohee, G. (1965). Geologic History of the Michigan Basin. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 55(9), 211-223. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24535210
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals. (2013). Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil and Gas Wells in Michigan. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/Hydraulic_Fracturing_In_Michigan_423431_7.pdf
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swezey, C.S., 2008, Regional stratigraphy and petroleum systems of the Michigan basin, North America: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2978, 1 sheet.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 U.S. energy Information administration - eia - independent statistics and analysis. (2020, June 18). https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=MI.
  5. Fisher, J. H., Barratt, M. W., Droste, J. B., & Shaver, R. H. (1988). Michigan basin. The Geology of North America, 2, 361-382.
  6. Gillespie, R., Harrison III, W.B., & Grammar, M.G. (2008). Geology of Michigan and the Great Lakes. Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education - Western Michigan University.
  7. Pierce, W. G., & Rich, E. I. (1962). (rep.). Summary of Rock Salt Deposits in the United States as Possible Storage Sites for Radioactive Waste Materials (pp. 1–91). U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  8. Salmazo, E., Mendes, J. R. P., & Miura, K. (2013). The influence of salt domes in drilling well activities. Brazilian Journal of Petroleum and Gas, 7(2).
  9. Dolton, G. L. (2006). Michigan basin province (063). Retrieved April 2, 2021 from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Office of Oil & Natural Gas. (2019, May). Michigan Natural Gas Flaring and Venting Regulations. energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/08/f66/Michigan.pdf.
  11. Nunn, J. A., & Sleep, N. H. (1984). Thermal contraction and flexure of intracratonal basins: a three-dimensional study of the Michigan basin. Geophysical Journal International, 76(3), 587-635.
  12. Office of Fossil Energy. (n.d.). energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/04/f0/complete_brochure.pdf.
  13. Central Michigan University. (n.d.). Clarke Historical Library. Introduction | Central Michigan University. https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_Statewide/Michigan_Oil_and_Gas_Industry/History_of_Michigan_Oil_and_Gas/Pages/Introduction.aspx.